Road Walk (Photo: Make the Road NY)
Make the Road New York, the state’s largest member organization for immigrant advocates, will launch its 2023-24 state policy program on Wednesday and begin a series of municipal councils to lobby for legislation that includes expanded unemployment protections, increased access to health care, and the creation of eviction “for reasons.” Good,” ending racially biased school discipline, decriminalizing sex work, raising taxes on the wealthy, and more.
With 25,000 members statewide, Make the Road New York (MRNY) is a major progressive group in the state that has consistently pushed for pro-immigration and pro-labor legislation. The group is set to launch Platform policy “respect and dignity” in her office in Jackson Heights, Queens, on Wednesday afternoon, followed by City Hall in the evening. The group also has town halls scheduled in Brooklyn and Westchester, and aims to hold one on Long Island as well.
Albany’s new agenda includes a series of legislative and budgetary demands that the group and its allies hope Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul will heed, after a narrow general election victory that progressives credit with helping her achieve her first full term. in the office. Heading into the new year working with the Democratic-dominated state legislature, Hochul will also deliver her second state of the state and executive budget address, where she outlines her own priorities and sets the schedule for the six-month state legislature.
“It was people of color, especially black people, and people of color all over New York City who re-elected Kathy Hochul,” Jose Lopez, co-executive director of MRNY, said in a phone interview. “And I think what our communities are looking for given the outcome of this election and the fact that we’ve protected their seat, is action on the core issues that really affect working class and immigrant communities of color.”
Following the example of the state’s $2.1 billion Excluded Workers Fund, which provided aid to those who couldn’t get federal unemployment benefits during the pandemic, MRNY is pushing for passage of a bill, sponsored by State Senator Jessica Ramos and Assemblywoman Karen Reyes. It would create a permanent unemployment insurance program for “excluded” workers. At a cost of $800 million annually, the bill would establish the first unemployment excluded program to provide up to $1,200 per month in subsidies for up to 50,000 workers who do not qualify for unemployment including the self-employed and gig economy workers.
The new fund will be crucial for people like Gerardo Vitale, father of two and member of Make the Road New York. “Immigrants like me, we contribute and help the economy…we contribute like everyone else but at the end of the day we don’t get help when we lose our jobs with any kind of unemployment,” he said in a phone interview through a translator.
Vitthal is currently unemployed and worried about falling behind on his rent and car insurance payments. “But there is no program I can apply to get any kind of help,” he said. “People think we don’t count, but we do because we contribute to the state, and we pay our taxes.”
The MRNY is also calling for passage of the Medicare Coverage Bill sponsored by Senator Gustavo Rivera and outgoing Assemblyman Richard Gottfried to create a basic, state-funded plan to provide health care to all low-income New Yorkers, regardless of their immigration status. The group estimates that approximately 154,000 residents of the state currently do not qualify for federal health insurance programs such as Medicaid and Essential Plan due to their immigration status, and that the program would cost about $345 million annually and involve participation from at least 46,000 individuals. (With Gottfried leaving the Assembly, another member will have to reintroduce the bill in the next legislative session).
As Hochul approaches her first term, a major item on her agenda is housing affordability and access, a priority that MRNY advocates also share. The group’s agenda is pushing for passage of “good cause” evictions, sponsored by Senator Julia Salazar and Assemblywoman Pamela Hunter, that would provide basic eviction protections for tenants including against large annual rent increases. The bill has gained traction in the legislature in recent years but has yet to pass and Hochul has not said whether she supports it.
MRNY is also urging the state to create a $200 million housing access voucher program, with half of it going to families at risk of homelessness and the other half to homeless people and families. That program, endorsed by Senator Brian Kavanaugh and Assemblyman Stephen Sembrowitz, had a great deal of traction in the legislature last year, but the Hochul administration has disputed the cost estimate and refused to support it.
“Those are the things New Yorkers care about, those are the things New Yorkers want to see happen,” Lopez said. And those are going to be fights that we help lead with allies across the state to make sure that this administration lives up to it. “
Another proposal on the agenda includes the Solutions, Not Suspension Act, sponsored by Senator Robert Jackson and Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, who is retiring. As with Gottfried’s bill, another member will have to pass legislation next year. It aims to end harsh school disciplinary practices that disproportionately affect students of color and those with disabilities. He will limit the use of commentary and instead focus on restorative practices.
Make the Road also supports the Stop Violence in the Sex Trade Act, sponsored by Salazar, which would decriminalize adult consent sex work and clear records for arrests, convictions, and imprisonment for sex work that is no longer criminal.
Although some of these legislative proposals will require significant state funding, López said they are “not very burdensome” and can easily be offset by Invest in New York package of bills, which aims to raise up to $50 billion in revenue by cutting tax loopholes and raising taxes on the wealthy and Wall Street corporations. This argument is likely to meet with resistance, especially from Governor Hochul, who has repeatedly said she has no plans to increase taxes.
“We’ll be ready for those arguments when they come,” Lopez said. “But I think the reality is that we see budgets as moral documents and there will be a question, especially after the election, about where to spend.”
“Our hope is that [Governor Hochul] She’s taking some lessons from this election and she understands that in order to do better, she’s going to need to secure some progressive rewards, especially next year,” he added.
Make the Road has several other priorities for state government to pursue, including adequate budget allocations for the state’s new public campaign finance program, with a $70 million request for the next budget, due by April 1; expanding benefits and removing bureaucratic barriers to childcare for low-income families regardless of employment or immigration status; ensuring that Hochul fulfills its commitment to fully fund the Public Schools Aid Foundation; investing $18.6 million in adult literacy education; restore $5.2 million in funding for the Community Health Advocates Program; increase funding for the Navigators program that helps people enroll in health insurance; New York Hospital Financial Assistance Act Update; and passing the Access to Representation Act to provide comprehensive legal representation for New Yorkers at risk of deportation.